- Christopher Lopez was put in chains after being found unresponsive
- 35-year-old later died ‘while staff idly chatted nearby’ lawsuit states
- Three employees have been fired over incident
The family of a mentally ill Colorado prison inmate who died while in custody have filed a lawsuit alleging guards ignored his urgent medical needs.
A lawsuit filed Thursday claimed that at least 16 state prison staff members did nothing to help as Christopher Lopez suffered seizures and died at the San Carlos prison in March 2013.
The lawsuit said that when guards found Lopez unresponsive on his cell floor, they treated it as a behavioral problem instead of a medical emergency and put him in chains and shackles.
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Lawsuit: The family of Christopher Lopez are suing after the mentally ill patient died after being shackled and left while having a seizure
Seizure: Lopez had been found unresponsive and barely conscious in his cell in March last year
The family said that 35-year-old had bipolar schizoaffective disorder, but instead of calling for medical help when he had a fit, the guards allegedly put Lopez in chains and with a hood over his head.
Lopez later died after suffering two large seizures in the early hours of March 17, last year.
‘The guards, who viewed his unresponsiveness as a behavioral problem, followed a special controls police, that resulted in his being shackled to a chair with a belly chain around his waist, and a spit mask over his head,’ according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.
According to the lawsuit, which is being brought by the inmate’s mother, Juanita Lopez, and three minor children, the incident was caught on security cameras inside the prison.
Civil rights lawyer David Lane, who is handling the case, told the Denver Post the video of the incident was ‘horrific to watch’.
After finding Lopez unresponsive and barely conscious in his cell at 3.30am, guards shackled him to a chair and put a mesh spit mask over his head, the lawsuit states.
Guards handcuffed Lopez and put a mesh spit hood over his head after finding him unresponsive in his cell
Claims: The lawsuit alleges that guards failed to seek medical help for Lopez
Eventually, it added, Lopez was unchained but staff allegedly ignored him as he suffered two seizures and died on the concrete floor.
‘We have a ringside seat to watch Mr. Lopez suffer two grand mal seizures in front of the camera while the Defendants idly stand about and discuss their views about Wal-Mart and other equally important topics, laughing and joking with one another, all the while completely ignoring the dying man in their charge,’ the lawsuit stated.
It alleged that no one moved to help Lopez as he struggled to breathe from the floor of a cell before dying there a couple of hours later.
According to 9 News, staff only noticed he had died when someone went to the cell to move the inmate and was unable to find a pulse.
A coroner ruled that the cause of death was natural, and said a sodium deficiency could have been to blame.
Upsetting: Footage from security cameras in the prison show Lopez slumped in the chair he was chained to
Adrienne Jacobson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said that the agency did not condone the actions of the employees involved.
She said that three staff members were fired and five were reprimanded within ten days of the incident.
Lopez, who struggled with mental health issues, had been in prison on several occasions since 1996, and was due to spend several months in solitary confinement at a facility that housed mentally ill prisoners at the time of his death.